YouTube Fast-Tracks CTV Features Amid Surge in Usage

Video streamer saw 80% year-over-year growth on connected TV devices

U.S. watch time of YouTube and YouTubeTV on TV screens increased 80% in March compared to a year ago. - Credit by Pexels, Unsplash
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Key insight:

People are streaming so much YouTube on connected TV devices during quarantine that the company has fast-tracked several new features for the format.

YouTube announced today it’s rolling out skippable ads for CTV and is configuring its Brand Lift measurement studies so they can be completed on TV screens using remotes. The Brand Lift format, which has been available on desktop and mobile, surveys YouTube viewers to measure brand awareness, ad recall and other data points to help advertisers understand the efficacy of their campaigns; the skippable ad format lets viewers skip ads they don’t want to watch after 6 seconds.

Both features were already in the works and slated for release “later in the second half of the year,” according to Christopher Lawton, communications manager for YouTube Ads, but they were pushed up after YouTube saw significant growth in CTV viewership during the Covid-19 pandemic.

U.S. watch time of YouTube and YouTubeTV on televisions increased 80% in March compared to a year prior, according to a company blog post. YouTube also said watch time on casting devices rose 75% in the same period.

“Viewer attention is shifting dramatically as we spend more time at home, and we’ve heard directly from many advertisers that are working quickly to adjust their creative and media strategies, especially to orient toward streaming platforms,” the blog post said.

The consumer shift to connected TV has prompted other companies to accelerate their own features for the devices, too. The short-form mobile video service Quibi, which emphasizes a mobile-first viewing experience, said it would debut a TV casting option later this month due to new viewing habits.

“We had always planned to have TV apps and being able to cast to your TVs, but it was really six months out,” Quibi CEO Meg Whitman previously told Adweek. “But because everyone’s at home, the No. 1 customer request to us is, ‘Can we cast to our TV?’ We scrambled with our engineers, and we’ll have that out by the middle of May—maybe a little bit earlier if we’re lucky.”

As social distancing policies have forced most American indoors for the last two months, streaming viewership has shot up across the board. As Adweek previously reported, Nielsen data showed U.S. viewers watched 154.6 billion minutes of streaming content during the week of April 13—nearly double the time spent relative to the comparable week last year.

YouTube saw an 800% increase globally in movies watched, 250% increase in livestreamed content watched and a 125% increase in TV shows watched in the four weeks starting March 10 compared to the same time the year prior. YouTubeTV, a paid over-the-top linear bundle, also saw triple-digit increases in viewership of movies, TV shows, documentaries and news programs in the same period, according to the company.

Individual viewing habits have also changed to meet specific quarantine needs such as cooking and exercise. Videos with the phrases “cook with me” and “workout at home” in the title have seen 100% and 200% increases respectively on all devices since March 15 compared to average views for the rest of the year.


@ScottNover scott.nover@adweek.com Scott Nover is a platforms reporter at Adweek, covering social media companies and their influence.